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Going to the “Far End of the East”

The Stranger

A man entered the always-open front door and sat down at the back of the room to listen. At the end of the Bible study, the stranger stood up and introduced himself: Pak Tarigan—from the village of Tanjung Timor. “In our village, we don't have a church. Would you come and teach the Bible to Tanjung Timor?” he asked. (Tanjung Timor literally means “the end of the east,” and is a village in North Sumatra.)

The church leaders quickly voiced agreement: we would come to his village. But six weeks passed, and we did not make it to the village of Tanjung Timor. We had meant what we said, but our involvement with groups of believers in other villages took most of our time.

On another evening, Pak Tarigan showed up again at our Bible study. This time he asked, “Why haven't you come to Tanjung Timor?” He pointed to me because I was the missionary with the vehicle, a four-wheel-drive Toyota jeep that could maneuver the roads to his distant village. I was embarrassed that we had not yet made it to his village, so I was slow in answering him. Seeing my hesitation, he quickly added: “We deserve to hear the good news about Christ also!”

His emphatic assertion hit me hard. The people in Tanjung Timor did deserve to hear that Jesus died for every person. I quickly assured Pak Tarigan that we would come to his village the following Saturday.

The Village Meeting

At 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning two church leaders and I set out. By 6:30 a.m. we had arrived at our rendezvous point to pick up three other men. After eating breakfast, we piled into the jeep and took off for Tanjung Timor. The road—filled with potholes—was without a doubt one of the worst in the world. In spite of the four-wheel drive, we got stuck four times, but the pushing power from the men kept us on our mission.

We arrived in the village several hours before sundown. After bathing in a nearby river, we were invited to eat with one of the local families. Afterwards, the village chief and elders came to meet us. They told us that they had called the people to gather in the assembly place in the middle of the village at 7:00 o'clock. We understood that this designated time was jam karet—“rubber time,” so the meeting might begin by 8:00 o'clock—typical of Indonesian village life.

According to the chief, the village population was about 800, and it looked as though almost everyone in the village turned out for the meeting! After introductions, I thanked the people for allowing us to speak to them. Then the church leaders—using the local dialect—explained God's provisions for us in Jesus Christ. They told stories from the Bible and used pictures to illustrate them. It was a three-hour presentation, yet people continued to listen.

True Hospitality

After the meeting, our team was invited to spend the night with one of the families in the village who were very gracious and hospitable hosts. The house—built as others in the village—had a large front room for receiving and sleeping guests, with smaller rooms in the back where the family members slept. Most houses had grass-thatched roofs with platted bamboo mats for the siding—and hard dirt floors.

This night the hostess spread a large bamboo mat on the floor for us to sleep on. I knew taking a couple of aspirins would help relax my back. Not wanting to slight the men with me, I passed aspirins around for them. Then the host and hostess held out their hands for an aspirin too, as did about a dozen other people who were looking in through the still-open windows and doors. Before retiring for sleep, I had emptied my bottle!

Hearing and Receiving

Getting up with the village at 5:00 a.m., we bathed in the river before eating a breakfast of steamed rice, fried eggs, and strong black coffee. Later, we went to the home of the village chief and drank tea with the village elders. With formalities over, the chief and elders asked questions about the meaning of salvation and how one could become a Christian. An interlude of silence followed. Then the chief stood, holding his hand over his heart, and professed: “I receive Jesus Christ in my heart as my Lord and Savior.” The other village elders made the same profession of faith. Then the chief said, “This village will receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” We understood what the chief meant by this statement. He was saying that by his example and influence, and that of the elders, other people in the village would want to become believers too.

After this initial visit, we made many follow-up visits to Tanjung Timor. We knew that each person must believe in Jesus individually and personally, so we tried hard to communicate the good news about Jesus clearly. The good news took root in the hearts of the village people. Their lives were changed—recreated toward loving God and their neighbors. Families with good reputations and good deeds brought peace in the village.

All Deserve to Hear

When I received word that the Indonesian government would not extend the visa for our family, I was grateful that leaders had emerged in the newly-formed church in Tanjung Timor. Pak Tarigan and others would use picture posters to illustrate Bible stories and interpret the Bible-teaching materials into the heart language of the villagers. As my family and I left Indonesia, we knew that the Lord, Who had started a good work at Tanjung Timor, would continue to work in the hearts of those who had trusted in Him.

Twenty years later, in 2008, I had the joy of returning to Tanjung Timor. I learned that the Tanjung Timor church was strong! The faith of those first believers had borne fruit, and they had shared what they had experienced of the good news of salvation in Christ with neighboring villages.

Although Tanjung Timor was a difficult village to travel to, going to this “far end of the east” was one of the most rewarding experiences of my missionary career. And I will never forget the heartfelt request of Pak Tarigan, “Will you come and teach the good news about Jesus to our village?—because we deserve to hear also!”

(Joe Garner Turman and his wife, Gloria, served as missionaries for thirty years in five countries on three continents, including twelve years in Indonesia. In retirement, Joe writes, works in his local church, and speaks at mission conferences. He and Gloria live in Alabaster, Alabama. )

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20140305
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Jul-Sep 2014. CCMUSA.